“Who else knew this song before it was trending on TikTok?” It’s a question you’ll find in the comments of pretty much every YouTube video featuring a “TikTok song” — that is, a song that’s become a viral TikTok audio.
These catchy, popular tunes, typically ones that lend themselves well to various memes, joke videos, edits or transitions, can become extremely popular overnight and even launch less popular artists into fame.
TikTok even has the power to make songs from decades ago become popular again. For example, Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams” (1977) and Musical Youth’s “Pass the Dutchie” (1982) both hit the Billboard 100 chart in the past two years after trending on TikTok.
Despite all the positives that can come out of it, TikTok’s major impact on the music industry can sometimes be overwhelming, especially to artists who did not originally become famous through the platform.
Back in May, pop singer Halsey posted a TikTok claiming that she wanted to release a new song but was barred by her record label from doing so until they could “fake a viral moment on TikTok.”
Halsey is not the only artist to complain about this phenomenon. Other artists like FKA Twigs and Florence Welch have also posted TikToks claiming they were being told to do so by their record labels. TikTok is becoming an extremely important part of music marketing, and while this makes putting out and promoting music more accessible to smaller artists, it seems to be a source of stress for artists used to older forms of music promotion.
Some people speculate that these frustrated TikToks are marketing tactics themselves, but either way, these videos highlight just how major TikTok has become as a platform for music marketing and discovery.
While big artists complain about this, other artists have been thrust from relative anonymity into overnight fame and recognition due to their songs going viral on TikTok. Ever heard GAYLE’s “abcdefu” or Salem Ilese’s “Mad at Disney?” You can thank TikTok for that, as both songs originally became popular on the app before gaining spots on various music charts around the world. These two artists were able to propel their music careers from small to trending primarily due to their viral success on TikTok.
Another way TikTok is making a splash in the music industry is helping to launch the music careers of influencers like Dixie D’Amelio and Addison Rae. These artists didn’t originally gain their following from making music but instead used the followers they got from making other kinds of videos as the first audiences for their music.
They’ve been relatively successful in doing so and have even secured opportunities like D'Amelio’s collaboration with Liam Payne on her song “Naughty List” and Wiz Khalifa on her song “One Whole Day.”
This does beg the question: is their success really fair to music artists who have been solely focused on their music careers, but fail to gain followers because they’re overshadowed by influencers like D'Amelio and Rae?
While it is possible for artists like GAYLE and Ilese to go viral and gain popularity from TikTok, the truth is it’s much easier for people with massive followings to start successful music careers.
TikTok’s impact on the music industry is a complex, multifaceted thing. While it can be a positive platform for artists to promote their music and engage with their followers, it’s also a source of stress for some artists and creates inequity for smaller artists who struggle to gain an audience in a sea of influencers releasing music.
It isn’t all good or all bad, and much of how TikTok affects your experience with music depends on how you’re looking to use it. If you’re more of a casual TikTok user looking to discover new music, you’ll probably find a mix of older, newer, more obscure and more popular songs through the app. But if you’re a music artist looking to market your work, there are many more circumstances, positive and negative, that will affect how you navigate your career on the app.